A family of four found dead trying to reach the United States by boat from Canada last week had been told they would be deported to their native Romania, Canadian media outlets have reported.
Florin and Cristina lordache and their two young children – aged two and one – were among eight people found dead in the St Lawrence River near the US-Canada border on Thursday and Friday.
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Police in the Akwesasne Mohawk community, whose lands stretch into the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario and the US state of New York, said Florin had two Canadian passports belonging to the children in his possession.
The Iordaches’ lawyer in Toronto, Peter Ivanyi, told The National Post newspaper that the Roma family arrived in Canada in 2018 and had submitted a refugee claim that was denied.
When subsequent immigration appeals also were exhausted, Canadian immigration officials told the family they needed to present themselves to Toronto Pearson International Airport for deportation last Friday, Ivanyi said.
“They didn’t tell me they were doing this,” the lawyer told the Canadian newspaper, about their decision to try to irregularly cross into the US.
“I obviously would have discouraged them from doing something like this, but they were so desperate to not have to take their young children back to the misery that the Roma of Romania live under — in terms of housing, no schooling, no running water, police indifference, cruelty,” Ivanyi said.
“They were so desperate they took it upon themselves to undertake this really risky adventure.”
Authorities said last week that the bodies were found near a capsized boat belonging to a missing man from the Akwesasne Mohawk community. A second family of four, originally from India, were among those who died.
“All are believed to have been attempting illegal entry into the US from Canada,” the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service’s deputy chief Lee-Ann O’Brien told reporters on Friday.
The police force said on Saturday that an investigation into the exact “circumstances surrounding the deaths” continued.
The fatal incident came one week after the US and Canada announced the expansion of a border agreement granting them the authority to expel asylum seekers who cross the nations’ shared border at unofficial points of entry.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled the expanded border deal, known as the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), in late March during US President Joe Biden’s first official visit to Canada since taking office.
Since 2004, the STCA has forced asylum seekers to make claims for protection in the first country they arrive in — either the US or Canada, but not both.
That has meant that people already in the US could not make an asylum claim at an official port of entry into Canada, or vice versa, and allowed border authorities to uniformly turn people back at official land crossings.
The expanded agreement unveiled on March 24 closed a loophole in the STCA that previously allowed asylum seekers who crossed into Canada at unofficial points along the border to have their protection claims assessed once they were on Canadian soil.
The White House said the restrictions would be applied “to migrants who cross between the ports of entry”.
Rights advocates lambasted the decision, saying applying the STCA to the entire 6,416km (3,987-mile) land border between the US and Canada would not prevent people from seeking to cross, but would only force them to take more dangerous routes.
Amnesty International Canada and other rights groups gathered outside Trudeau’s office in Montreal on Tuesday afternoon to denounce the expansion of the deal.
“The expanded Safe Third Country Agreement will increase the risk of refugee claimants and vulnerable migrants taking more and more dangerous paths as they seek safety,” Aviva Basman, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, also said in a statement on Tuesday.
“It is deeply disturbing that Canada would put migrants in this situation, creating an environment in which clandestine smuggling networks will flourish, and increasing the risk that migrants will face physical harm and life-threatening situations trying to seek safety.”
Last week, the bodies of eight migrants, including a toddler, were found in Quebec's St. Lawrence River. On #RefugeeRightsDay, Canadian and U.S. Advocates Urge Leaders to Reject Policies that Endanger Refugees. Read the press statement here: pic.twitter.com/tIBj8G87Ac
— Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (@CARLadvocates) April 4, 2023